Well, Rapture didn't happen — now what?

Published May 25, 2011 3:05 pm
It'll be tough to start over for believers who gave up savings, jobs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Now that the earthquakes, global chaos and Rapture haven't materialized, disappointed believers face a new challenge: keep living.

Many likely will go through stages of grief from denial and recalibrations of the date to disillusionment and depression. Others will be locked in one stage or another.

For ardent devotees of radio broadcaster Harold Camping's dating of Judgment Day to May 21, the ability to adapt will depend on how much they had banked on it and how little they were prepared for a future. If they gave up life savings, family relationships and jobs, it will be especially tough to start over.

The good news, historians say, is that all this has happened many times before (though maybe not with as much global news coverage) and so there are predictable patterns of response.

"When a prophecy fails, believers will be upset, shocked, confused, disappointed or embarrassed," Daniel Wojcik, author of 1997's The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America, writes in an email. "What's interesting is that in most cases the millennial group does not collapse and the people involved somehow seem to adjust relatively quickly to the disappointment of the nonevent, and sometimes increase their commitment and devotion to the leader and future prophecies."

Failed prophets such as Camping may say the prophecy did occur but as a spiritual rather than physical event, writes Wojcik, professor of folklore studies at the University of Oregon. "Failed prophecies about the Second Coming of Christ have been interpreted as an invisible and spiritual return of Christ or Christ principles, initiating a new spiritual era."

The explanation might be that the believers' faith and efforts have "temporarily saved the world from destruction, fairly straightforward," he writes, or caused God to "withhold punishment to give believers more time to convert nonbelievers."

In Camping's case, Wojcik speculates that the 89-year-old broadcaster might argue that his prediction "brought the word of God to many new people, and did in fact save souls, and in this way it was a success."

The Rev. Dave Nederhood, pastor at Alameda Christian Reformed Church in Northern California where Camping once worshipped, doubts any good will come of Camping's whipping up an apocalyptic frenzy across the world.

Nederhood worries particularly about the potential dangers of what he sees as Camping's manipulative declarations on his most vulnerable followers.

Since Camping insisted that there was "no room for doubt" and "no Plan B," Nederhood said from his Bay Area home, "I fear that many of his followers will experience great psychological trauma and many may consider or attempt suicide."

Those who sold their belongings or spent down to their last dime "will be destitute," the pastor said, while Camping, who lives around the corner from the pastor, didn't give up his house for the predicted Rapture or the two cars parked in the driveway

Camping left the Alameda congregation in 1994, the last time he predicted the world would end, and alleged that all Christian churches had abandoned Jesus Christ.

The broadcaster — who owns scores of stations, including 91.7 FM in Salt Lake City — told followers the spirit of God was no longer in organized Christianity and they had to isolate themselves from it and their families if there was any hope for them to be saved, Nederhood said. That left his devotees alone and without comfort in their grief when the end didn't come as predicted.

"The church opened its arms to his disappointed followers," Nederhood said, "but their minds had been so poisoned against the church, few returned."

Although he recognizes the hurdles it would take, Nederhood hopes this time more will find their way back to a Christian community.

Though a nonbeliever, New York playwright Deborah Laufer, who wrote, "End Days," doesn't think a two-year Rapture watch was an altogether bad thing.

During her play's entire second act, all the family members, though divided on the advent of the Rapture, hole up in a single room, willing to humor their mother. They play games, eat, talk and rediscover the joy of being a family, finding the love they once shared.

Maybe that happened with Camping's followers, Laufer said in a phone interview from New York. "After a massive public prediction like this, what the people who expected it might be left with is whatever they learned from seeing life as brief."

They, no doubt, shared an intensity of emotions that few others understand, she said, including the "thrill of thinking you're about to be saved and spend eternity with Jesus, the fear that you will lose your loved ones and the disappointment/relief when it doesn't come."

Life is brief for all of us — apocalypse or not, Laufer said. "We are all going to die, not necessarily today or the day after tomorrow, but it's coming, and that's a good thing to be conscious of."


Reporter Kristen Moulton contributed to this story.

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